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A background guide to Brexit from the European Union

ON FEBRUARY 20th, 2016, David Cameron, Britain's prime minister, set June 23rd as the
date for a referendum on the countrys membership of the European Union. His announcement
followed a protracted renegotiation of the current conditions of Britains membership at a
summit in Brussels. The move immediately prompted government ministers to declare their
backing for either the remain or leave campaigns.
In early 2015 the chances of Brexit Britain departing from the European Unionseemed
remote. Today, largely because of Europes migration crisis and the interminable euro mess,
the polls have narrowed. Some recent surveys even find a majority of Britons wanting to leave.
The two campaigns, "Britain Stronger in Europe" and "Vote Leave", that are likely to form the
official lobby groups for each side in the referendum have set out their positions on the main
topics that will form the basis for the referendum (see table at the end).
Britains uneasy relationship with the European Union has a long history. It did not join the
European Economic Community, the precursor of todays EU, at the start in 1955. Rather, in
1960 Britain cajoled six much smaller European countries into forming the European FreeTrade Association (EFTA). But in 1961 British government, impressed by the EECs superior
economic performance, decided to submit the first of several applications to join. Britain
eventually joined in 1973.
British trade with other EU countries has risen rapidly since 1973, though as the European
economy has slowed, its share of the total is declining (the EU now takes over 51% of British
exports of goods, and close to 45% if services are added in). Yet whether Britain is in or out,
the EU will be a key partner. The effects of EU membership on trade patterns are difficult to
measure, but
economists
have carried out
a modelling
exercise which
concluded that
Britains trade
with the rest of
the EU was
55% greater
than it would
have been if
outside.

Regulation is perhaps the Eurosceptics biggest bugbear. When trying to show how much
Britain might gain from leaving the EU, they tot up all the costs of EU regulation, assert that
there are no benefits from it and assume that, after Brexit, the whole lot could be scrapped.
The OECD club of mostly rich countries has compared the extent of regulation in product and
labour markets among its
members and finds that Britain is
among the least regulated
countries in Europe. Indeed,
Britain compares favourably with
non-EU countries such as
America, Australia and Canada.
And there is little to suggest that,
if it were to leave the EU, it
would tear up many rules.
Moreover, if a post-Brexit Britain
wanted to retain full access to
the single European market, it
would almost certainly have to
stick with most of the
accompanying rules.
What are the options if Britain decided to leave the EU? A post-Brexit Britain will have to form
a set of trading and institutional relationships with it. The uncertainty is over what these would
beand how long they might take to negotiate.
Broadly, there are five models to choose from. The first is to join the European Economic Area
(EEA), which consists of Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The second option is to try to
emulate Switzerland: it is not in the EEA but instead has a string of over 20 major and 100
minor bilateral agreements with the EU. The third is to seek to establish a customs union with
the EU, as Turkey has done, or at least to strike a deep and comprehensive free-trade
agreement. The fourth is simply to rely on normal World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules for
access to the EU market. The fifth, preferred by most Eurosceptics, is to negotiate a special
deal for Britain alone that retains free trade with the EU but avoids the disadvantages of the
other models, but it would be extremely hard or even impossible to negotiate this in an
atmosphere, post-Brexit, that would hardly be a warm one.
In fact Britain has influenced the EU for the better. The European project it joined in 1973 had
obvious flaws: ludicrously expensive farm and fisheries policies, a budget designed to cost
Britain more than any other country, no single market and only nine members. Thanks partly to
British political clout, the EU now has less wasteful agricultural and fisheries policies, a budget
to which Britain is a middling net contributor, a liberal single market, a commitment to freer
trade and 28 members. Like any club, it needs reform. But the worst way to effect change is to
loiter by the exit.

adapted from: <http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2016/02/graphics-britain-sreferendum-eu-membership>